Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait, a new book by Steve Parke published by Cassell, collects images dug up from “old hard drives from long-dead computers” and taken during Parke’s 13-year tenure as Paisley Park’s resident art director. Complemented by personal anecdotes about life in Prince’s home/recording complex, the book attempts to highlight Prince the human being, casting him as a basketball and ping-pong savant, a prankster, a boss without boundaries and an “ordinary guy.”
Of course, most ordinary guys are not looking to rent mountain lions in Minneapolis at midnight, as Parke recalls Prince once asked him to do for a shoot. Many of the portraits, mostly taken during the 1990s when he’d changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, largely reinforce the long-established image of Prince as a visitor-from-another-planet, an androgynous, elfin enigma. In Parke’s images, he twirls in a red tunic, plays his guitar in a ruffled turquoise jumpsuit, and wears a dozen different velvet tracksuits, sequined trench coats and Renaissance Faire-inspired outfits.
But Parke shows Prince at his most earthbound when surrounded by nature, particularly in a series of photographs taken at Minnesota’s Chanhassen Arboretum. Dressed in a simple black sweater and sitting on a stone bench, a contemplative Prince practically disappears into an organic swirl of autumnal golds, oranges and greens.
The images of Prince with his first wife, Mayte Garcia, which serve as a sort of centerfold for the book, also hint at the behind-the-scenes intimacy that Parke was privy to. When the couple is curled up atop bed sheets or tucked into the corner of a dark club in Spain, the photographer finds Prince connecting with another person, rather than with the camera, and he’s finally able to set all pretence aside. —Colin Carlson